Issue Framing and Engagement: Rhetorical Strategy in Public Policy Debates
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Conventional wisdom and scholarly research indicate that to win a policy debate political actors should frame the issue strategically—that is, selectively highlight considerations that mobilize public opinion behind their policy position. Engaging the opponent in a dialogue (i.e., focusing on the same considerations) is portrayed as a suboptimal strategy because political actors forfeit the ability to structure the debate. Using over 40 public opinion polls and a detailed content analysis of news stories, I examine the use of framing and engagement strategies during the 1993–94 debate over health care reform. The analysis shows that engagement was more effective at increasing support for reform than framing. This study is the first to document the role of engagement in a policy debate, and it extends work showing that this strategy is more common in election campaigns than scholars once suspected.